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There are many aspects an NHL scouting department has to consider when selecting a player, with size, skill level, and production all being key areas. Then there are the off-ice matters that must be considered. One factor that has always been prevalent is the “Russian factor”—fear that Russian-born players will be harder to sign because of their desire to play in the KHL instead of North America.
Another one of these is the fear that college-bound prospects will utilize all four years of NCAA eligibility and then become free agents. Players like Kevin Hayes, Alex Kerfoot, Jimmy Vesey, and Will Butcher all chose to wait out their signing window and enter the NHL as free agents. The Devils dealt with both sides of this coin last summer, losing Kerfoot and signing Butcher.
Overall, if the team shows interest in a player throughout their college career, he will more than likely sign without issue. It is the players who don’t necessarily receive a lot of fanfare during their first few years, who then break out in the latter of their college playing careers that are more susceptible to entering free agency. College players picked in the first few rounds have never been a problem because teams want them playing sooner than later. It is basically the project “types” that want to control where they sign in the NHL.
The Devils currently have a couple prospects playing in the NCAA. Right now, there doesn’t appear to be any immediate danger in regards of any of them walking. Nonetheless, I’ve provided a rundown on New Jersey’s NCAA prospect crop, along with the likeliness of the following players potentially taking the post-collegiate UFA route.
NCAA Team: Harvard
After development camp, there were rumors Walsh was ready to go pro after only one year of college hockey. Shero has openly discussed how he does not think Walsh will spend all four years at Harvard. Coincidently, Harvard seems to have a history of producing hockey players who go the free agent route, mainly due to the prestige of a four-year degree from the ivy league institution. In addition to Shero’s comments, Walsh has shown no signs of wanting to complete all four years of schooling. He will most likely be signed at the end of his sophomore season—if not sooner.
NCAA Team: Northeastern
Likeliness: 30-35 percent
Jeremy Davies has done nothing but dominate at Northeastern. The former seventh-round pick has quickly exceeded expectations that were initially laid out for him, and is only getting better. The problem with Davies is he is on the older side, and is returning for his junior year. Davies was seemingly ready to go pro after an extremely impressive sophomore year but would not sign. This could be due to a lot of factors like loyalty to his teammates and coaches, love of the school, or maybe he is trying to play out his eligibility. Devils fans shouldn’t panic just yet, but Davies is looking like he could be potentially problematic in a couple years.
NCAA Team: Notre Dame
Hellickson is still very young. He was drafted one year ago, and had a successful year on a top-tier Notre Dame team. He isn’t ready to start his pro-career, but is definitely on the trajectory of becoming an impact player in a couple years. It is no surprise he isn’t a one-and-done, but he does potentially fit the model. He is a late-round pick who has an opportunity to really blow up and up his stock at Notre Dame. There have been no signs or hints that he is going to stay all four years, so (for the time being) I definitely would not worry about Hellickson.
NCAA Team: Penn State
Talvitie has spent his entire career in Finland, so there is bound to be a learning curve when he makes the jump to North America next fall. He is a hardworking center who makes his money around the net, so his game may not be overly affected by the sudden lack of space. Hopefully he can continue to improve in the NCAA just as he has been in Espoo. This season could be a real chance for him to get comfortable with playing on the small ice at game speed. This seems to be more of a hockey move than a move to get a four-year degree. Another player not to lose sleep over in this regard.